Letter from Rep. Danou: 50 years since the Cuban Missile CrisisFifty years ago the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.
By: Rep. Chris Danou , Pierce County Herald
Fifty years ago the United States and the Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war. October 22, 1962, President John F. Kennedy informed the American people on television of the events that had unfolded and have since become known to history as the Cuban Missile Crisis.
In his address, President Kennedy announced that he ordered a blockade of Cuba in response to the discovery that missiles from the Soviet Union were installed on the island 90 miles south of Florida. There was great disagreement amongst the President, his military advisors and cabinet members as to how the United States should respond to the “clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.” After much discussion in secret meetings, the President knew he had three choices: negotiate with the Soviet Union to remove the missiles, bomb the missile sites in Cuba or implement a naval blockade of the island.
Ultimately, President Kennedy decided to initiate the naval blockade, leaving the option to bomb the missile sites only if further action proved to be necessary. To the President, this was a tough, but peaceful way to solve the crisis. In his speech alerting the American people of the situation, President Kennedy warned that the missiles on Cuba were capable of hitting Washington, D.C. or anywhere in the southeastern part of the country. The U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was evacuated and all military units were placed on standby. It seemed a military conflict was imminent.
Meanwhile, Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev responded by sending additional ships toward Cuba and allowed construction at the missile sites to continue. Over the course of the next six days, Americans and the rest of the world watched anxiously to see what would happen as Kennedy and Khrushchev engaged in tense negotiations via telegram and letter. By October 28th, Kennedy and Khrushchev reached a settlement and the world breathed a sigh of relief as nuclear war had been avoided.
There have been books written and movies made about the Cuban Missile Crisis as more details have unfolded over time. These were some of the tensest days of the Cold War and military action could have happened at any moment. In fact, if the decision was up to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, an invasion of Cuba and a full military attack most likely would have happened. It is difficult to imagine where the world would be if the decision to wage a full military attack had moved ahead. Fortunately, President Kennedy took time to hear the opinions of other cabinet members, consider his options and ponder the consequences before making a final decision.
This is an excellent example of leadership during difficult and uncertain times. As more details have come to light, it is clear that caution and understanding guided President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was through his patient and thoughtful decision-making process that allowed him to take the necessary time to initiate the naval blockade. He clearly understood the gravity of the situation and the need to listen to all perspectives and weigh the consequences to make a responsible decision for the United States and the world. Fifty years later, the world is thankful for President Kennedy’s level-headed approach to solving a crisis that no doubt could have escalated into an all-out military conflict.